This week I shared the Iceberg Theory with the team in Ghana. It’s an interesting concept that can be transferable with its use.
Its main message is around what you do versus what others see- often a job, a project or an outcome is seen by many (the visible), yet the immense work that goes into it (invisible) =, isn’t seen. Sometimes though, it means much of the substance of something is missed.
Well the ATE School Feeding Programme can definitely be applied to this theory.
Often, our wonderful supporters and followers will see the images and videos of our partner schools at breakfast and lunchtime; those critical meals ATE provides to thousands of students each year, reducing school drop-outs and increasing concentration and overall experience.
The work that goes into that one meal per child per day is more than you could possibly imagine.
If you enter the Ramsbury Office for ATE, you’ll find the three staff typing furiously at their keyboards as though smoke were coming from their fingers. This is as they write proposals, plans, financial reporting and of course, the integral and arduous fundraising applications. Hundreds of applications will be filled and few (like most charities) will be answered. As the team race around the UK attending meetings, talks and presentations to spread the word, long-term donors do all they can to support and fund the work.
Then of course, there is Lawra. Today seems like a good place to start the story that is ‘School Feeding Purchasing’.
For many communities in Northern Ghana, like Lawra, Market day falls on one day per week, where all traders come together to sell anything and everything; from fresh produce to sandals, pillow cases to freshly whipped shea butter. This is often the main place you can purchase the items you need. Its also the place many hope will give them money they need to put food on their families tables.
It’s a colourful market- as you would expect it to be. With traders and sellers in bright cloths, hustling to make ends meet. Bright vegetables, delicious smells of fresh corn or ‘lawra pancakes’ being cooked.
To maximise funds at ATE, the Market is the place most items for Schools are purchased, to ensure the best price and best quality. Often items of the same standard can be half and sometimes three times cheaper than stores.
The last Market day of each month is a busy one for the ATE Ghana team; as this is the last market day before the start of a new month. September 5th 2019 arrives and its Market day, the last available market before schools open and the team has had this in their calendar for weeks.
Morning arrives and an early visit to the bank is disappointing; funds aren’t available to pick, ready for the market, due to baking delays that are constantly faced here. It was the same story yesterday. A common factor in grassroots work, limited infrastructure, heavy rains, no network; all can contribute to delays in accessing services. So, no funds and very little cash in the office stalls the day.
The UK office tries all they can to fix the issue whilst the team in Ghana do two things. One is to visit the bank every 45 minutes to see if funds are available. Two, go to the market and negotiate with sellers to see if the produce can be given ahead of the payment (a common payment plan system in Ghana).
Left is Prosper negotiating for Milo for the Karbo Primary School Breakfast feeding. With no cash, he’s negotiating to receive the product now and pay later. I’m on the phone to our fab Projects and Development Officer Leela regarding M&E, no harm in multitasking.
Prosper has negotiated well and managed to get many sacks and boxes of MILO and AMANI (Dried Fish) to the office and arranged a payment another day.
Its now 1pm and by now we don’t believe the funds will be ready. We make plans to go to another towns market on Saturday instead. So getting on with the day as normal, myself and Kaamil and are a weekly finance call with the lovely Sarah and Tara.
But just as I’ve drawn the White Flag, Hub Manager Prosper walks through the door with a small piece of paper with a small number written…the funds have arrived and I rejoice! Ending the call, I race over to the staff to tell them.
We’ve all missed lunch and the peak of the sun is high in the sky, but we all head to the bank to retrieve the funds and allocate according to the budgets.
Each month, the Hub Managers sit with their School Head-teachers and School cooks to project a budget and shopping list for the month ahead, breaking down everything to bowls per child per day. It’s a detailed processs, which must always align within the budget. Once the budget is submitted, project funds are sent across after approval and all spending is recorded.
The team cross check the funds in the car outside the bank and away we go!
Now this is the busiest time of the market and the roads and blocked, with all variations of vehicles, tuk tuks (known as kamboos here), cars, motorbikes, scooters and trailers. Everybody is busy trading and buying.
The Hub Managers Nicholas, Rexford and Prosper jet off to begin their purchases for 7 schools and thousands of children for the month of September.
Ernestina, our SNAP Playscheme Coordinator has also joined to purchase education materials for a SNAP child to assist in getting back to school.
I run around after them all trying to help. The Hub Managers are busy negotiating, purchasing salt, pepper, fresh ingredients, fish and okra. I offer to carry things or search but theyre in their groove. I assist Ernestina as she makes her way through the twists and turns, bargaining as much as possible. I see her bargain a blanket down and down again. I am very impressed.
The only thing I’m able to do is put my mum hat on and provide the team with drinks and snacks to keep them going.
We’ve hit a problem though. A main ingredient for the schools is low (dried okra), there is a regional shortage and we race around searching everywhere. Were left with one seller racing home to see if they have any, but once they return its disappointing news. Ernestina and Prosper have both tried to translate and negotiate to find a seller, were left with one woman with twists in her hair who guarantees us she has some dried okra at home and she’ll be able to bring them to us in our office tomorrow.
Once the market is finished, everyone darts away to the shops where certain products are available and trailer drivers run in and out of stores carrying the items back and forth. From people’s homes to various stores, the Hub Managers try their best to get the best quality foods at the best prices.
We all return to the office and label and store each item.
The Hub Managers are meticulous with their labelling and measuring, making sure every bowl of an ingredient a school needs, a school gets.
Closing time has well passed and eventually most staff leave the office. As I have returned to my desk, sweaty and tired, I proceed with other work. I, like the rest of the team am pretty tired and hungry, one might even say hangry.
But 5.15pm strikes and I hear a voice call from outside. It’s the seller from the market with twists in her hair, she’s found dried okra and wanted to deliver it as soon as possible. My heart melts as I run over to her to help.
She’s finished up in the market and raced around the town to find okra. With no shoes on, she walks in to the office placing the okra that she’s been carrying on her head down. She saw our desperation and came 12 hours early to drop off the item.
This work is no small feet. From the fiery fingertips and fundraising in the UK to the negotiating and bargaining skills of the Hub Managers, strength, flexibility and diligence are vital.
We continuously meet people in the community who say their child is hungry or the parent cannot afford food that day, due to lack of an income or the lean farming season. Being able to signpost children back to school, with confidence letting them know they will have their meals provided. Well, its an honour.
From the donor in the UK who donates online or meets an ATE staff member at an event- thank you! Your funds go directly to some of the most vulnerable. To the talent and hard work of the UK office ensuring funds are raised, available and the strategy and impact is priority. To the team in Ghana, who blow my socks off on these days; their genuine care and passion for their community’s children is definitely endearing.
I hope this gives a small insight into what’s below the surface with our School Feeding Programme and shows what’s behind a school meal for a needy child.
By Jessica Cruse